LSU came into Memorial Gym with a career record of 14-34. The Tigers had to work overtime to get its 15th win in one of the SEC’s toughest place to win.
But Vanderbilt fields not only a young team that is inexperienced, it is a team in many ways just getting used to playing together.
The Commodores fell, 79-75, dropping to 11-8 overall and 1-5 inside the SEC.
They had their chances in a game that featured 15 lead changes and nine ties. Vanderbilt led for 29:49 of the game. LSU led for 9:54, but the Tigers led at the right time – when the final horn sounded.
Under former Tiger guard and now head coach Johnny Jones, these Tigers were more athletic, winning 42-36 on the boards and placing five players in double figures. Vanderbilt didn’t have an answer for the one-two punch of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.
Mickey finished with a game high 25 points and 11 rebounds. Martin also posted a double-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds.
“The game came down to a couple of key turnovers and a couple of key possessions,’’ said Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings, whose record against LSU is 11-10. “Our defense in the second half was not nearly as good as it was in the first half. They made plays and we didn’t.
“We talk about finishing and we didn’t finish. Lesson learned. We have to keep learning.’’
Freshman Riley LaChance had a rare off night with his shots. He missed 8 of his 10 attempts from the field and was blanked from 3-point range on three shots. He did go 4-4 from the free throw line and grabbed six rebounds, which tied center Damian Jones in the rebound column.
Stallings needs to find a way to boost his team’s confidence, as it has now lost five straight SEC contests. They travel to Georgia and Texas A&M before returning home for three SEC home games against Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina.
They have been pretty resilient, but must find a way to win close games such as the one they lost to LSU.
Stallings has had to deal with the uncertainty from game to game.
“There can be a tremendous variation in each performance,’’ he said, pointing to freshman Luke Kornet.
“Luke is a perfect example. He doesn’t scratch at Kentucky but does well tonight,’’ Stallings said Saturday. “It’s a challenge as a coach to figure out who your best five guys are.’’
Stallings doesn’t have a history of overflowing with patience, but he doesn’t want to lose this team.
Talent wise, this can be one of his most talented teams in recent years.
“Overall we played hard, but had one or two guys who didn’t give us enough to win,’’ Stallings said.
He’s the coach. He gets paid for figuring those things out, building their confidence instead of wearing them down.
Stallings’ freshman class is the core of his roster. It is hope for the future. Seven of the top eight players who lead the team in minutes played are freshmen. Five of their six top scorers are freshmen. The leading scorer (15.6) and rebounder (7.1) is sophomore Damian Jones.
Stallings has to pull them up when they are down.
They need to be confident as they learn to adjust to the transition from high school to college basketball.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.